This study focused on the dispersal and dispersion of southern elephant seals, Mirounga leonina, at Marion Island in relation to their natal site, and to their site of first reproduction. Movements from the natal site to terrestrial haulouts used for reproduction, and between successive reproductive sites, were defined as dispersal, while movements from the natal site to sites used for purposes other than reproduction, were defined as dispersion. Some 33000 records collected over 12 years, of haul outs at 54 different sites of 5700 tagged seals, formed the database analysed. Both male and female seals were found to use sites closer to their natal site than expected, for reproductive, moult and winter haulouts. However, breeding seals used sites closer to their site of first reproduction than their natal site, on subsequent reproductive haulouts. No difference was found between the mean distances dispersed to moult sites and to winter haulout sites, but distances of dispersal were significantly less than distances of dispersion. Female seals dispersed further than males to reproductive sites, but no difference between the sexes was apparent for moult and winter dispersion. While the number of male seals hauling out to reproduce was too small to assess the effects of various factors on the dispersal of males, a number of factors influenced the dispersion of male seals, and dispersion and dispersal of female seals. These included age, isolation of natal site, anthropogenic disturbance, natal harem size and natal harem pre-weaning mortality. A number of hypotheses are proposed to explain the reasons behind the results found, and the direction of future research concerning the movements of southern elephant seals and their choice of terrestrial environment is suggested.
Dissertation (MSc (Zoology))--University of Pretoria, 2006.